Kansas school board advances parental rights, despite ‘shocking’ opposition

The Lansing Board of Education in Kansas voted Monday to adopt a new transgender student policy requiring parental notification, despite opposition which the board’s vice president characterized…

The Lansing Board of Education in Kansas voted Monday to adopt a new transgender student policy requiring parental notification, despite opposition which the board’s vice president characterized as ‘shocking.’

The new policy requires schools in the district to offer transgender students “support measures consistent with their gender identity.” Such support measures may include the use of preferred pronouns and the use of unisex or single-stall bathrooms. However, such supports require parental notification and consent if the student is under 18.

“In general, the district will only consider support measures requested or discussed with the student’s parents/guardians,” the policy stipulates. “However, the district may provide support measures to a student without the consent of the parents/guardians if the student is 18 or older, is not dependent upon his or her parents/ guardians, or is determined by the district to have a legal entitlement to support measures.” 

While the new policy allows staff to address students by their preferred pronouns, it stops short of compelling them to do so. 

“Staff who do not wish to use these pronouns should use the student’s name instead and should not revert back to their interpretation of the student’s pronoun,” the policy reads. 

It also generally requires students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their sex at birth. But schools will provide unisex or, in some cases, single-stall bathrooms and locker rooms for transgender students, with approval. 

After passing a Parent’s Bill of Rights in June 2022, Board Vice President Amy Cawvey believes this policy was necessary to codify internal policy, creating transparency and accountability for handling transgender student issues. What’s more, she believes the policy does well to balance the needs of all students, while still protecting parental rights and the First Amendment rights of the district’s staff.  

“Leavenworth school actually has what they call an internal policy, [but] they don’t have it as part of their actual board policy, or in their handbooks,” Cawvey told The Lion. 

“We already had passed a parent’s Bill of Rights in June of 2022,” she continued. “Part of that was that the staff cannot keep… any information from parents. We did that because we were made aware from staff of emails going out to the entire staff to keep preferred pronouns or social transitioning a secret from parents, when teacher conferences were coming up… So, we had that in our Parent’s Bill of Rights, but we didn’t have an actual written [policy]. 

“They have [the internal] one though. But it says that a teacher must use the preferred pronoun if the child does get permission from the parent… then the teacher is compelled to use that pronoun. If that goes against their religious beliefs or personal beliefs, we believe that violates their constitutional right of protecting their free speech. So, we did not want to use that.” 

The new policy, she says, also brings the district into compliance with state law and federal Title IX regulations. 

In April, Kansas Senate Bill 180, the Women’s Bill of Rights, became law after the Legislature voted to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto. The law states “an individual’s ‘sex’ means an individual’s sex at birth, either male or female.” It therefore restricts the use of public restrooms and locker rooms, requiring the use of the space aligning with the person’s sex at birth, when unisex options are not available. 

Title IX prohibits discrimination in institutions receiving federal funds, such as schools, based on a number of factors, including sex, sexual orientation and gender. President Joe Biden’s administration, and President Barack Obama’s administration before that, expanded the definition of gender to include gender identity for such purposes. 

Critics, including some staff members, students and parents, say the new policy will “out” some transgender students, potentially putting them in harm’s way. 

To that, Cawvey reminds everyone that schools and their staff are mandated reporters. Thus, if a student expresses the belief they may be in danger at home, for any reason, the school or staff person is required by law to report it to the proper authorities.  

“Some say, ‘Well, the kid might commit suicide if [their parents] find out. Or they might not be safe at home,’” she says. “But, if they tell the teachers they’re not safe at home, all teachers, staff, counselors and admin are mandatory reporters. So, they at least have to report that, if they don’t feel safe at home for whatever reason.” 

Additionally, most parents want to be informed of issues impacting their student, Cawvey says, which is why she was astonished to find some parents in staunch opposition to the policy and the Parent’s Bill of Rights adopted last year. 

“Now, and in the past when we did the Parent’s Bill of Rights, we did have several adults speak out then against that also,” she recalled. “Mainly, they focused again on that, you know, they call it ‘outing’ students to their parents. So, we have had parents complain about that. Which does shock me that they want to do that.”